Most long-running comic book companies, if they’re in business for long enough and have a wide enough diversity of creators working on their releases, reach a point at which those creators begin to pull inspiration for their stories and characters from other media. Comics in general have a long history of reflecting the trends of the larger pop culture. But this is a little bit more than that–this is essentially swiping a character or a persona virtually whole cloth from some other source and integrating it into the fictional world that is being created. Marvel is certainly guilty of this happening repeatedly over the years. So here are five instances where Marvel misappropriated characters from elsewhere.
GIANT-SIZE MASTER OF KUNG FU #4 – Rufus T. Hackstabber. The world of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, was rife with characters and personas pulled from other media, especially in the hands of series long-time writer Doug Moench. Heck, Shang-Chi’s father was Fu Manchu, and a number of licensed characters from Sax Rohmer’s work littered the series. As did Clive Reston, a British secret agent who claimed indirectly to have been the son of James Bond and the nephew of Sherlock Holmes–a pretty good pedigree there. But more directly, Moench and artist Keith Pollard introduce an element of farce into the series in this story, which casts Groucho Marx as taxicab driver Rufus T. Hackstabber. Through the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Rufus ends up drawn into Shang-Chi’s battle with Fu Manchu and his Si-Fan minions, and keeps up Moench’s best interpretation of Groucho patter and jokes throughout the issue.
UNCANNY X-MEN #132 – The Hellfire Club. Throughout his many years of writing comics, for Marvel and elsewhere, write Chris Claremont always left his influences on his sleeve. You could always tell at any given moment what films or television or novels he had just consumed, as it seemed like remastered versions of the characters, concepts and ideas would wind up often in his work. But probably the most notable case of misappropriation was made by Claremont and his then-partner John Byrne in bringing the Hellfire Club into the X-Men mythos. The Hellfire Club was a real place–but that’s not so much what Claremont and Byrne were drawing their influence from. Rather, their take was inspired directly by the Hellfire Club episode of the British television series THE AVENGERS (an episode that was considered too risque to be broadcast on American television in the 1960s.) Byrne went so far as to model the various Hellfire Club members after actors from that episode, in a bit of cheek. Few people remember this long after the fact that Emma Frost is based on Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel, or that Mastermind’s Jason Wyngarde persona was that of Peter Wyngarde, an actor who gained notoriety after playing a character called Jason King.
POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #79 – Professor Justin Alphonse Gamble. Writer Jo Duffy had been a fan of the work of Chris Claremont before she got into the business, and she succeeded Claremont on POWER MAN AND IRON FIST. And one of the things she drew from Claremont’s example is that it was all right to lift whole swaths of material “in homage” to something the writer liked. Jo was a fan of the British science fiction series DOCTOR WHO, and so in issue #79, Luke and Danny’s friend winds up starring in an off-Broadway play concerning Professor Justin Alphone Gamble’s battles through time and space with the Dredlox, a thinly disguised version of the Daleks. The Dredlox, though, are real, and use the play as cover to establish a beachhead on Earth. Fortunately for the boys, Professor Gamble is real as well, and he arrives in pursuit in his larger-on-the-inside book shop. Kerry Gammill handled the artwork with aplomb.
MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #40 – Arsene Jordain III. This one is a briefer bit of purloinment, but no less sharp. And it’s Jo Duffy again, this time working in concert with artist Jorge Zaffino. While most of this outing concerns the Punisher’s battle against a mysterious Assassin’s Guild, Duffy uses the opening pages to pay a bit of homage to one of her favorite Anime series from Japan–LUPIN III. So the book opens with Arsene Jordain III and his unnamed gang–a gunman, a samurai and an exotic lady–in the midst of another heist when they run afoul of the Punisher, who promptly murders them all. It feels just a hair out of character for the Punisher, who typically concerns himself with crimes much more severe than simple theft, but it makes for a fun opening. Given that Lupin III himself was misappropriated from French novelist Maurice LeBlanc’s gentleman their Arsene Lupin, there’s perhaps a hint of poetic justice in this use.
POWER PACK # 51 – Numinus. Up through the 1980s, the comic book industry was very much a Wild West situation where what was permitted was a very laisse faire situation. Most all of these issues of character appropriation wouldn’t be permitted in this modern era where likeness and IP rights are more avidly protected. But so it was that as writer (and sometimes artist) Jon Bogdanove went about wrapping up Power Pack’s latest adventure in space, he had their fat pulled out of the fire by a character called Numinus, who was nothing less than a cosmic version of Whoopi Goldberg. Gray Morrow was the artist on this particular issue, and his often photo-realistic approach captured a pretty good likeness of Goldberg throughout. Numinus rescued the Power kids and explains to them that she’s the embodiment of capricious positive fate. She’s also more powerful than Galactus himself. Which doesn’t give her any longevity, as she never pops up again after this–I’m betting that somebody at Marvel was a bit worried that this depiction was too close. It’s also possible that Whoopi (a fan of comics herself) may have registered a complaint about her likeness being used without permission.
5 thoughts on “5BC: Five Times Marvel Misappropriated Characters”
“Up through the 1980s, the comic book industry was very much a Wild West situation where what was permitted was a very laisse faire situation. Most all of these issues of character appropriation wouldn’t be permitted in this modern era where likeness and IP rights are more avidly protected.” Did Marvel ask to use Samuel L. Jackson’s likeness for Nick Fury? (I’m not trying to be snarky, I don’t know the answer.)
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They did not.
Jackson reportedly almost sued Marvel over it, but settled for an “If we ever make a movie, you get the role” promise. That’s worked out pretty well for him over time.
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Numinus returned about five years ago, in the pages of Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger’s Groot miniseries! However, she had been extensively redesigned so as to look a lot less like a cosmic Whoopi Goldberg.
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For the Hellfire Club, in addition to Emma Frost being based on Diana Rig and Mastermind / Jason Wyngarde being based on Peter Wyngarde, the rest of the Inner Circle were also modeled on actors: Sebastian Shaw was based on Robert Shaw, Harry Leland was based on Orson Welles, and Donald Pierce was based on Donald Sutherland.
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Well, I do this most times the influences on the Dark Phoenix Saga are raised and it never seems to catch on…However, there’s a 1924 gothic romance novel by Margaret Irwin called ‘Still She Wished for Company’. It’s subtle, so it’s up to the reader to decide if the young women in the 1920s and 1770s are time slipping or if it’s a ghost story and the Hell Fire Club is in it. And Diana Rigg wears a corset. The last bit is a lie, but I read it in my teens before DPS and it rang bells for me when Claremont and Byrne turned up with similar elements.
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